How to Navigate Survival Through COVID as a Small Business

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, for some, the last ten months have been soul-crushing. Fortunately, with the release of vaccines, we feel like we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  There are some shows scheduled this year, and in speaking with clients, there is a desire and a need to return to shows. For many, trade shows are the most direct path to a healthy bottom line.

There have always been highs and lows in the past. 2008 was a shocker. We had recently opened our doors, and the stakes were high, but this feels different. We consider ourselves fortunate to have several clients that have kept us busy with some unique projects. Pivot is an overused yet common and relevant theme, but some of the work has taken us on a trip into very new and exciting territory. We have loved every opportunity and appreciate these projects more than a thank-you can express.

We’ve continued connecting with clients and are still pushing ahead with marketing efforts. We  share our expertise and the projects that we complete, reaching everyone we can, reassuring our connections, and letting our audience know that “we’re still here, we will survive this, thank-you.” 

It’s with heavy hearts that we admit this won’t help everyone. Not everyone will be so fortunate.

It’s been quite a journey, and as we look forward to the future, we can look back and reflect on the steps we took to get here. The first step was to cut expenses, and we’ve done everything we can to do so. So what else have we been doing to strengthen our position for the future? Our strategy has been rooted in communicating, marketing, and giving thanks.

  • Participating in virtual coffee meetings and forging more significant connections than we had before.
  • Participating in webinars and getting involved with associations relevant to our business.
  • Participating in online networking opportunities at virtual events.
  • Dedicating ourselves to a high level of participation with CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business) activities and committing to joining their recommended speaker list for news agencies. We can’t stress enough how the CFIB has helped us clarify changes that the governments have been making each week.
  • Keeping up with our quarterly newsletter and sending regular email communication – calming the anxiety of some, updating others, and, most importantly, keeping our subscribers informed. It’s important to let people know what we are doing and to share industry insights. The push is to help our clients succeed beyond COVID.
  • Offering product promotions, including discounts, payment plans, and flexibility on terms of projects.
  • Our outreach is compassionate. Our message is safety first and business second—personalized, discreet outreach over the phone for clients whose businesses might be worse affected.

Short-term risk has undoubtedly captured our focus. However, we’ve kept our sights on refining our long-term plan.  Below are seven tips from Exhibit Studio for forging a post-COVID path.

  • First and foremost, continue to align your team. Everyone is stressed. Let your team know they matter and that you support them. If you had to lay off staff temporarily, keep in touch.
  • Remain transparent. With everyone. Customers, staff, friends, family. Oversharing may not be the best approach but pretending that the risk and stress don’t exist isn’t healthy or helpful either.
  • Explore new strategies and approaches—some of the marketing efforts we used in 2019 look different now. Be flexible in the way you reach your audience. 
  • Use the time to consider and make changes to processes and technology. We’ve had time to sit back with a different perspective and gain valuable insights. These insights have pushed us to improve our work and make modifications to our day-to-day operations. This month we are implementing a new accounting program.
  • It has been an excellent time for us to try new things. Typically, we rarely have downtime. We don’t want to miss out on opportunities to assess and enable future growth, and now we have the chance to act on new concepts.
  • Work hard and build your brand. 
  • Connect with other small business owners for support, to share ideas and frustrations. No one understands the impact better than other small business owners. According to the Calgary Economic Development, Calgary Small Business Fact Sheet (June 24,2020)small businesses accounted for 95 percent of all companies in Calgary and we have the second-highest number of small businesses per capita of major cities in Canada*. 

We feel such a sense of loss for those that have permanently closed their businesses. Hopefully, for the rest who have experienced a severe loss of business, a dose of good luck thrown in with hard work will help the majority weather the storm and emerge, surviving and thriving.

As a final note, we want to thank Calgarians for the tremendous level of support they have been extending to small businesses. It’s been truly extraordinary. If you haven’t seen them yet, please check out these fantastic local initiatives to #supportlocalYYC.

*Source: Statistics Canada, CMA Population, July 1, 2019, and Canadian Business Counts, December 2019

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